Make a Restaurant-Worthy Salad in Your Own Kitchen This Summer

Mechele R. Dillard's picture

Yes, you can make an exciting salad at home; here are a few ideas and tips to get you going.

In this summer heat, there is no better supper to sit down to than a big salad. But, many of us, while we love the main-course dinner salads we get out at restaurants, we just do not get that same salad thrill when we go to chopping and sprinkling in our own kitchens.

But, it’s easy to change that.

Getting Started

What makes a salad a salad? Many of us would answer, “Lettuce.” And, that is a perfectly great answer—after all, how many salads have you eaten that did not contain SOME kind of lettuce or green? So, start there: Choose your lettuce.

You know, in this politically correct day and age, even the salad has taken a hit. Most of us love iceberg, but, sadly, do not buy it because we are afraid the lady checking out our groceries is secretly shaking her head at our choice. But, there is nothing wrong with iceberg, in my opinion. It is a great base, it has a perfect crunch, it is easy to wash, cut, and store, and it is inexpensive. After all, you were not planning on getting all of your nutrients for the day from the lettuce you chose for your salad, right? So, if you like iceberg, get iceberg; if you like romaine, get romaine; if you really do like those bitter organic mixes (no, I do not), get those; just get what you like. Wash it, dry it well (spin ‘em if you have ‘em), chop/tear it, and make yourself a nice base on your dinner plate. I find that about one-and-a-half to two cups works well for one dinner-sized salad.

Now, most of us have the standards we just have to have on a salad to make it a salad. For me, that would be onions. Do not hand me a “salad” without onions; I do not want it. I have other things I like, such as cucumbers, tomatoes and deviled eggs, and typically do have those, but onions are the one must-have topping on my list. Make your own list of must-haves, and make sure you have them.

But, where to go from there?

Commercial Salad Secret

Think about those restaurant salads. What is so great about them? Why are they so much better than what you make yourself? Well, I’ve studied this and I’ve come to the conclusion that those commercial salads have something going for them that our salads at home often do not: focus.

Yes, that’s right, focus.

Too often, when we make a salad at home, we see it as a “catch-all.” Oh, salads are a great way of using leftover chicken or making a roast stretch from one meal to two. But, when we start making a salad, too often we just start throwing things on it, not thinking about how much we need or how well the things go together. If you want to have a restaurant-quality salad, get some focus and build upon it.

  • Choose your protein. It can be whatever you want, but make it the star of the show. So, whether you want slices of grilled steak, fried chicken fingers, turkey pepperoni slices or kidney beans, all of your other toppings will be in a supporting role, i.e. they should enhance the protein.
  • Choose your veggies. Veggies are often hard to pick beyond the typical lettuce/tomatoes/cucumbers/onions, but they do not have to be. Just stop thinking “salad” and start thinking “dinner.” Steamed veggies, like broccoli, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts, are excellent salad toppers; sweet potato fries, baked or fried, are delicious; and things you may not associate with salads whatsoever, like green beans, can be delicious when topping the right salad. Just think about your protein, think about what you would have with it were it just on your plate as an entrée, and decide if it would work in your salad—be creative, and it likely will.
  • Choose some fruit. If you like a little sweetness, fruit is a good choice. Grapes, strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, raspberries, blueberries, whatever you like, whatever is in season and/or whatever is on sale—think about how it could be used in a salad.
  • Do not go overboard. You decided on 4-ounces of grilled steak, along with tomatoes and onions. A few chopped Brussels sprouts, a sprinkle of sweet potato fries, and a scant handful of blueberries makes a beautiful sight to behold. Now, step away. You may love lots of things, but if you pile them ALL on your salad, it’s just going to be a jumbled hodgepodge of mess—pick a few toppings, stay focused, and don’t go topping-mad.
  • Tie together with dressing. Most of us have a favorite dressing; I like bleu cheese. Take this into consideration from the beginning—if you like a particularly sweet dressing, for example, perhaps you would prefer to leave the fruit off your salad—but most salads are pretty versatile when it comes to dressing. If you like it, it will probably work for you.

Follow these summer salad-making tips, and you will put a salad on the table worthy of your favorite commercial concoction—and probably friendlier on your pocketbook, as well.

Image: Wikimedia Commons